And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.Matthew 16:18 ESV
That afternoon, I sat with my shotgun in hand, waiting and watching to catch the perpetrator of the recent crimes, but the sly fellow never appeared. Nevertheless, by morning the evidence of his skullduggery was again on display, and my zucchini squash plants lay in ruins. Mr. Groundhog never showed his head, but the evidence of his deeds was a clear reminder that a mere garden fence would not keep him at bay. Yet, I did not give up on our vegetable patch. I replanted and strengthened the fence and was delighted to discover that though the zucchini crop was a bust, we reaped tomatoes, peppers and green beans in abundance that year. In the same way, when we grow spiritually fatigued, discouraged and disillusioned by scandal among church leaders, fellow church members, or ourselves, we must not give in to despair. Instead, remember that attacks are not a sign of defeat. Rather, the impact of our spiritual garden attacker does not, will not and has never destroyed the success of all the crops.
After all, it would be no miracle if God’s church grew unimpeded throughout the centuries because all Christians were perfect. The miracle is that, in spite of our glaring shortcomings, scandals and weaknesses, God has continued to build His church, and after two thousand years she remains alive and well. Each time the enemy has broken through the garden fence, God in mercy knelt down and went to work in His garden. He didn’t tell Peter He needed a perfect church to build His Kingdom. Instead, God’s promise was that by the miracle of His grace, He would rebuild the garden fence, replant the damaged rows and in the end reap an abundant harvest that no power of hell could ever destroy!
We have known for a year since Pastor Rick first announced his coming retirement, that this day was coming, yet on receiving the official announcement, I was still overwhelmed. No, Rick and Kay have not been perfect people, nor is Saddleback a church without fault, yet the impact they have made together has been tremendous. But rather than revisit old arguments back and forth over their Purpose Driven model; today might be a day of to put that aside and be thankful for the good they have done, the sacrifices made and the many who have come to know Jesus because of them.
I remember first opening a shiny new copy of the Purpose Driven Church back in 1995-96. Its concepts were simple, challenging and gave hope for reaching our communities for Christ. Too long we had either met between four walls, with minimal positive outreach, or gathered for stadium events, which though outwardly successful, seemed to have little impact in our own local churches. Sure, there are lots of things I wish were different with our own church which seems to follow closely their model, but we are at least in some areas truly growing, baptizing new believers and trying new things every year to serve our community.
But church politics aside, let’s pause and be thankful for Rick and Kay. Let’s pray for God to continue to keep them in His hands and bless them as a family that has been through much together in the service of Jesus. More than this, let’s realize that as Rick said of their replacements, “… God has prepared and chosen them to take up the baton and run the next leg of the Saddleback marathon.” God has also prepared and chosen each of us to either be passing or taking up the baton where we live (I’m in the passing generation). I learned from the track team on which I once ran, that winning the relay race was more than just running fast. Our team won first place in the state in 1965, not just because our guys were the quickest, but because every one of them passed the baton flawlessly on to the guy running the next leg of the race. The key was that the approaching runner could not slow down even a quarter second. He had to keep up the same pace as he stretched out his arm with the baton. The receiving runner could not just stand there waiting. He had to start running beforehand and then match his pace with the one behind him till they were almost side by side, then, with a seemingly effortless move he grasped on to the baton and took off alone to run his leg of the race. So, don’t slow down, if you are the one giving it your all to pass on the gift that God has given you. Run with all that is in you- not to – but through, the finish of your lap. For you who are waiting for the baton to reach you. Don’t just stand around waiting for it to be handed to you on a silver platter. Get going! Start running your best, till you match the pace of the one who is handing on to you what God has chosen for you to receive. We are all on the same team – Team Jesus! And when we finish our course, there is a victor’s crown that waits, which we will one day cast at the feet of Jesus – who loved us and gave His life so that we could run the race!
In case you missed this week’s announcement of the transition beginning at Saddleback church in California: Pastor Rick Warren announced that he will be stepping down from his role as Senior pastor there once a replacement has been found. From a practical point of view this is not surprising. He and his wife Kay have given over 42 years of their lives serving not only their church and its many campuses but also countless outreach ministries around the world. Yet the thought of them leaving their role as voices of calm in the storm of our ongoing American culture wars brings a sadness to my heart. I pray only the best for them both and their family as they seek God’s next step. Too many times we only realize how much leaders need our prayers after an embarrassing public failure or financial scandal. Why not join together and pray that the leadership at Saddleback will have the grace and wisdom to find the person or persons to fill the role of a future lead pastor? If you would like to hear more about this coming transition beyond just the headlines, I am posting Pastor Rick’s video here. I found it both quite interesting and encouraging.
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— Colossians 4:3 ESV